Religion, Faith and the Fantastic
Often drawing from religious mythology, fantastic literature has been intricately linked to religious themes since before the mid-twentieth century, when Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, a religious allegory (although he insisted that it was not), and Tolkien formulated his understanding of fantasy as a sub-creation. In His Dark Materials (1995-2000), Philip Pullman creates a New Eve and imagines a frail deity no longer in control. A myriad of fantastic fiction — such as Terry Pratchett's Hogfather (1996) and Neil Gaiman's American Gods (2001) — also looks at the displacement or immigration of old gods as well as the creation of new ones. In other instances, new religions are created in fantastic texts, as in the case of the 'Church of All Worlds', a religion mentioned in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) or 'Earthseed' in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower (1993).
Popular fantastic narratives taking up religious themes are also regularly met with criticism from several Christian as well as Muslim communities, which is most prominent in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series for reasons such as the glorification of witchcraft and occultism. Nevertheless, the series also clearly portrays Christian values, such as love, loyalty and a willingness to sacrifice. Similarly, Pullman’s award-winning trilogy was received with an outrage for its blatant blasphemy by some communities. At the same time, it also was praised for its thought-provoking ideas by Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, who argued that the trilogy criticized the institutional abuse of power within religious communities. In short, whether explicitly dealing with religious themes or not, mainstream fantasy often evokes criticism from religious communities or sometimes, surprisingly, also enjoys a religious reading despite its rather secular content.
For this symposium, we invite papers that look at religious themes in fantastic genres in any media, including fantasy, sci-fi, graphic novels, children's literature, Pixar, Disney or Miyazaki films. Due to a strong focus on Christocentric perspectives in a majority of mainstream fantastic literature and media, we explicitly encourage papers on non-Christian perspectives, including Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim perspectives in fantastic texts and media, pagan and indigenous spiritual practices as well as new religious movements. At the same time, we also invite interdisciplinary papers on the critical reception of fantastic texts and media within religious communities or the emergence of invented religions featuring fantastical elements or based on fantastic texts respectively.
Possible topics might include, but are not limited to:
- religious pluralism, atheism, and interreligious dialogue in fantastic texts and media
- the afterlife, especially in relation to world-building
- re-imaginings of religious mythology and figures, such as deities, angels and ghosts etc.
- mythopoeia in fantastic texts and media
- prophecies and (false) prophets
- occultism and fantasy
- spirituality and the sacred
- ecocritical or feminist perspectives on religious fantastic texts and media
- skepticism, religion and superstition
- invented religions based on fantasy or sci-fi literature
Proposals should be no longer than 350 words, either in German or English. The deadline for proposals is: January 31st 2022. Please also include a short bio. Presentations at the symposium should be 20 minutes long and a selection of them will be published in the Inklings Yearbook.
Please send your proposals to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Location: We are hoping to convene this conference in person at the Center for Religious Studies (CERES) at Ruhr University Bochum. However, should the ongoing pandemic not allow this, we will switch to an online format.
Financial aid: There will be a bursary available to speakers for accommodation and travel expenses.